What I Learned from the Strange Man in the Hot Tub

One night over winter break, I was stressed and sore, so I decided to skip my usual workout and head for the hot tub at the gym instead.  Just as I settled into the bubbly heat, I heard someone say, “Can I ask you a question?”

I glanced around the hot tub and saw only one man, maybe a few years older than me, seemingly friendly enough.  “Sure,” I said.

“Have you lived in Denver long?” he asked.

“Yeah, almost 20 years,” I replied.

“Have you noticed that road rage has gotten really crazy around here lately?”  he asked me.  It was a bit of an abrupt conversation transition, but I think any dialogue at all is a bit odd in a public hot tub, so I rolled with it.  “I mean, I’m from New Jersey, and the road rage there was nothing like it is here!  I’m even thinking of moving back!”

I love Denver!  I thought.  Why is he attacking this awesome city?  I was quiet for moment.  “Well, I don’t really drive around the city as much as I used to, except to drive my kids to school and activities.  I haven’t noticed anything very different.  But I guess it is the holiday season, so people are a little more stressed than usual.  Maybe that’s it.”

The guy jumped right in.  “Nah, I don’t mean just now.  It’s been happening for a long time.  People are just so rude!  Flying around, changing lanes, tailgating, running lights.  Maybe it’s because pot is legal here, I don’t know.”

If this dude thinks pot makes people angry and aggressive, this guy doesn’t know anything about pot, I thought.  But the guy was still raging.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s because the media isn’t reporting on the real problems of the world,” he continued, unfazed.  “No one has a clue what’s really going on!”

Having a hard time understanding the connection between what is reported on in the evening news and the state of road rage in Denver, Colorado, I decided to simply excuse myself from the conversation.  “I don’t know,” I said, “I just try to focus on my own family, and make things as peaceful with them as I can.  Speaking of which, I’m going to meet my husband in the steam room.  Enjoy your evening!”

I exited that hot tub as quickly as I could, feeling exposed not only because of my swimming attire and the fluorescent lighting, but also because of how quickly I had been robbed of my relaxing moment in the spa.  I didn’t want to lament the problems of the world!  I certainly didn’t mean to invite a frenzy of fury from the stranger in the hot tub!  I was just trying to be polite.  Now, though, I was more stressed than ever, and also a bit hopeless and pessimistic.  Is this how people in my community feel?  I thought.  Have things really gotten this bad?

As I settled into the steam room, my mind drifted to a story I’ve heard many times about perspective.  The story goes something like this:

There were two families looking for a home.   The first family came to town and saw a man sitting in a chair just passing the time of day.   The father approached the man and said “Is this a town full of crabby people?   We just moved from a town full of people who were never happy and we don’t want to make that mistake again.  We think you can tell the type of town it is just by the way it looks and we would hate to end up with a bunch of unhappy, crabby people again.”   The man in the chair assured them there were plenty of crabby people living there so it was probably best that the family move on.   He urged them to find something else.

The second family approached the man and the father asked, “Is this town full of friendly people?   The last town we lived in everyone knew everyone else, attended the celebrations with family and friends and life was pretty enjoyable.   We think this town might be just what we’re looking for — what do you say?”   The man replied “Welcome to town.   The people here are just as you described and we think you’re going to like living here.   Let me introduce you to some very friendly people.”  

This story sums up my interaction with the man in the hot tub.  I was upset by the Man in the Hot Tub’s initial observation, because I’ve lived in Denver a long time and I happen to love the city.  I was defensive and annoyed by his comments, because I don’t want Denver to turn into a hateful place.   I think Denver is dynamic, welcoming, clean, safe, active, and stunningly, breathtakingly gorgeous to boot.

The Man in the Hot Tub, on the other hand, saw rage on the streets.  Perhaps he saw that rage because he expected to.  Maybe his perspective led to his experience, not the other way around.

Is the world perfect?  Absolutely not.  Is Denver flawless?  Certainly not.  Our world has real problems, and we need to fight for justice and truth and freedom.  We can make this world a much better place to live in, no doubt.  I am committed to devoting my life to that purpose.  Yet, there is such beauty in the world right now too, just as it stands.

I feel a little sorry for the Man in the Hot Tub.  Where I see light, he sees only darkness.  That’s a hard way to live a life.

The world is a beautiful place when we choose to see it through the lens of love and acceptance.  It’s ridiculously hard sometimes, and life can sure throw difficult and ugly things our way.  Today, however, I’m choosing to keep my eyes on the light.

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